MEDIA RELEASE: NC Justice Center, groups join forces to advocate for low-wage workers

MEDIA RELEASE: NC Justice Center, groups join forces to advocate for low-wage workers
Lawsuit from trade groups attempts to deny fair wages to temporary foreign workers

RALEIGH (Sept. 20, 2011) – The NC Justice Center and advocacy groups for low-wage workers across the county have been fighting since 2009 for an increase in the wage rates for U.S. and temporary foreign workers who are hired by employers participating in the H-2B visa program. As a result of this litigation, a federal district court in Pennsylvania ordered the U.S. Department of Labor to issue new regulations which would ensure that H-2B wages are correctly calculated at the prevailing rate for U.S. workers in the same industries. The new wage rates are scheduled to go into effect on September 30.

However, trade groups from the lodging, seafood, and forestry industries, among others, are now attempting to curtail the wage increase by suing the Labor Department in federal court in Louisiana. The groups allege that the new rule will harm employers who choose to participate in the H-2B temporary foreign worker program, which allows employers in the U.S. to bring foreign nationals to the country in order to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs.

Worker advocates argue that the H-2B program has been subverted into a means of acquiring cheap labor at artificially low wages, and that the low wage rates currently in effect have an adverse impact on U.S. workers who compete for those jobs. On Monday, several organizations, including the Justice Center, asked to intervene in the industry lawsuit on behalf of workers affected by the new regulations.

“We asked the court to allow us to defend these new rules because the trade groups’ complaint is nothing more than another attempt to avoid paying fair wages,” said Clermont Fraser, a migrant worker attorney at the Justice Center.

The employer trade groups are soliciting donations for a “defense fund”, and have received backing from legislators whose districts would be directly affected by the new rule, including Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski from Maryland. Mikulski plans to offer an amendment to the bill that would kill the new H-2B wage rule, which she said could potentially interrupt Maryland’s lucrative crab season.

“Mikulski’s efforts are hasty and put the interests of a small group of industries before the interests of U.S. workers in finding decent jobs with fair wages,” said Carol Brooke, a migrant worker attorney with the NC Justice Center. “The H-2B program is designed to ensure that U.S. workers are not undercut by artificially low wages for foreign visa workers. Therefore, it’s imperative that the long over-due wage increase is enacted as ordered by the court and Labor Department.”

Workers in the case are represented by the North Carolina Justice Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, Friends of Farmworkers, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., the Northwest Workers' Justice Project, and attorney Edward Tuddenham.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Carol Brooke, Migrant Worker Attorney, NC Justice Center, carol@ncjustice.org; Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, NC Justice Center, jeff@ncjustice.org, 503.551.3615 (cell).